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How to Defend Yourself From a Harassing Boss

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Harassment at work can come in many forms, from a boss who intimidates you, humiliates you in front of coworkers or continually and unfairly criticizes your work, to one who crosses over into illegal behavior by sexually harassing you. Besides lowering your self esteem and creating feelings of self doubt, harassment at work can cause stress headaches, sleep problems, anxiety and depression. While not all types of harassment on the job are covered by law, federal laws protect you against harassment that takes the form of discrimination.

Talk to Your Boss

Approach your boss directly before talking to someone else. Let him know you do not appreciate his bullying or inappropriate conduct toward you. Remain calm and avoid coming off as confrontational. Be courteous and consider that maybe your boss isn't necessarily targeting you but is merely venting his frustration. He could be under a lot of stress and or having a string of bad days. Suggest ways the two of you could improve your working relationship.

Refer to Your Employee Manual

If talking to your boss fails to get results, find out if your employer has a written policy for dealing with harassment in the workplace. There may be a policy stated in your employee manual. Regardless of whether your company has an official complaint process, unless the harassment violates civil rights laws, it isn't illegal. Still, some employers, including the Department of Labor, have policies that prohibit harassment in the workplace. When you report harassing conduct, your employer may take steps to investigate the allegations and resolve the issue before your boss violates the law.

Collect Proof in Writing

Collect proof that your boss is harassing you by documenting each time an incident occurs. Include the date, time, names of any witnesses, where the harassment occurred, and details about what happened. Indicate whether the harassment is verbal, non-verbal or written. Go over your boss' head and report the behavior to his direct supervisor or to the company's human resources manager.

File a Formal Complaint

If the harassment still doesn't stop or becomes worse, report it to your union representative, if applicable. You may be able to file a formal grievance if the type of harassment you are experiencing is covered under your collective bargaining agreement. For sexual harassment or harassment takes the form of discrimination, you can take legal action to protect your rights. File a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. If your state has a fair employment agency, you can file a complaint with that agency at the same time.


Amber Keefer has more than 25 years of experience working in the fields of human services and health care administration. Writing professionally since 1997, she has written articles covering business and finance, health, fitness, parenting and senior living issues for both print and online publications. Keefer holds a B.A. from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in health care management from Baker College.

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